The name Masato Nakamura isn’t the first name that would spring to mind when talking about a blue anthropomorphic hedgehog called Sonic. Nor is it a name that would be known by many outside of the hard-core gamer circles, but it is a name that’s as important to the creation of Sonic the Hedgehog as anyone else who helped bring Sega’s flagship character to life. Before we go any further though, a time machine of the imagination is needed, and the destination? 1989.
In 1989, Mario was king of the videogame world. He’d had three successful titles on the Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom), Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2, and the recent release of Super Mario Bros 3, released in Japan in 1988, but wouldn’t see a release in the West until 1990. Sega, who had just released the Mega Drive (Genesis) needed a mascot to flagship their new system and the company as a whole and compete with Nintendo’s loveable plumber.
So along came a hedgehog…
A blue hedgehog to tie in with Sega’s colour choice, and a rivalry was born. Plumber vs. Hedgehog in a no holds barred fight to the finish. For kids in the nineties, much as today, sides were picked and playground disputes over who was better erupted – the console brand war was on.
The story of Sonic and his creation, and the war of the nineties is a story for another time. One iconic element of the first Sonic game was the music, and what great music it was. Sega realised that they would need a catchy tune to keep pace with Mario’s iconic themes and they recruited Nakamura for the task.
Nakamura was a popular musician with the band Dreams Come True when he received the call from Sega to work on a new project. That project was their new IP Sonic the Hedgehog. Matching the catchy tunes of the Mario franchise wasn’t an easy task, and Nakamura was enthused by the intent of Sega to take down Mario and put him into second place.
Computers were just coming into the foray in the music industry and Nakamura couldn’t wait to get his hands dirty in giving gaming fans something truly special rather than the tinny repetitive sounds gamers were used to. Using an Atari computer, the musician, even though limited with what the technology could do, poured his heart and soul into giving each zone its own distinct feel, with the first recorded piece being the Green Hill Zone level. Nakamura would balance his time between recording an album for Dreams Come True and working on the game, with the intention to give the game a cinematic musical feel. Once the music was finished, Nakamura delivered the finished music on a cassette tape, only for an engineer to then digitize the music for the game, once it was approved by Nakamura, Sonic would soon find his way into the wider world.
Using Dreams Come True’s popularity as a springboard, Sega equipped the band with a Sonic-branded tour bus to promote the game, and soon Sonic mania was running rampant across first Japan and then the world. A true icon was born, and along with him, some of the catchiest in-game music of all-time!